View from the Loft 

war and peace, politics, books, rants, the passing parade ...


Friday, August 01, 2003

Mysterious Illness Strikes More Soldiers

Seven more soldiers have contracted the mysterious illness that killed two soldiers, causing muscles and organs to degenerate (see my July 31 post). That brings the total up to nineteen suffering from the illness, which looks at first like flu, pneumonia, or other acute respiratory distress. "Three or four" soldiers in the same unit as John Neusche, who died July 12 of the illness, have also gotten sick.

Thursday, July 31, 2003


I've hesitated to write about Liberia, partly out of ignorance of the history leading to the present conflict, and partly because of the moral dilemma involved.

Perhap there shouldn't be a moral dilemma for someone who considers herself a pacifist, but the reports coming out of Liberia make it understandable that so many people are crying out for the U.S. to intervene. Action by Churches Together reports:
A desperate and bleak picture continues to emerge from Monrovia, the war-torn capital of Liberia. While fighting continues between government and rebel forces, the representative of Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Liberia, Charles Pitchford reports that the city is littered with bodies and severely traumatized people who have been displaced as the war rages on.

Food and water is running out and prices of basic foods have skyrocketed over the last weeks. "The price of rice is $60US per bag as opposed to $20US just weeks ago. Fuel is almost non-existent. That, which is available, is selling for four times the normal value. The banks are presently inoperable and cash is in severe short supply," says Pitchford.
The ongoing crisis has hampered the distribution of food, and since looting is rampant, securing relief items is of critical importance. Burial of the dead is often impossible with shelling going on in the city and families constantly on the move.

With the people of Monrovia facing conditions like these, the argument for intervention on humanitarian grounds makes sense to many people. An argument can also be made that stabilization of Liberia is crucial for the entire West African region, since rebels in Liberia are backed by other nations.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Bush administration made much--after the fact--of humanitarian reasons for invading Iraq, while it has been noticeably reluctant in the matter of Liberia. Most likely this is because Liberia is not seen as vital to U.S. interests, meaning corporate profits. Nonetheless, I find it all too believable when a friend points out that intervention to prevent genocide was okay in the Balkans, but not in the case of Rwanda, attributing this, in part, to deep-seated beliefs of decision-makers (white men, mostly) about the worthiness of different human groups--in other words, to racism.

Over on Acts of Conscience, Joel points out that the idea of humanitarian intervention will come back to haunt us the next time the war party wants some poor country's natural resources. They'll make a list of all the atrocities (real and invented) and human rights violations, making self-righteous noises about how their intentions are strictly honorable and in the name of justice. We've already seen humanitarianism invoked as the noble reason for our imperialism in Iraq. Didn't the British do the same when they created their Empire? Bringing light to the benighted natives of whatever unfortunate country they set their sights on?

When the 3% of Liberians who ran the country--the Americo-Liberians--were in power, the U.S. did nothing to encourage a more inclusive government. Native Africans were denied citizenship and excluded from political power by this small group. This state of affairs held until the 1980 coup by a native African named Samuel Doe, who then ("meet the new boss, same as the old boss") saw to it that his own tribe was given preference in all matters. Tribal friction then led to the overthrow of Doe's government by Charles Taylor.

Some time in the 150-year history of Liberia, there must have been opportunities to bring pressure to bear in the direction of peace and sanity. Yet it is the case with the U.S.--and most, if not all, other governments--that no effort or expenditure is seen as necessary until the point of extended conflict is reached. And then everyone hollers for intervention, military troops, "peacekeeping" forces.

There is no peace to keep in Liberia. Nor have I seen a plan for establishing the peace. There are two different rebel groups vying for power, fighting the current government and each other. Taylor now controls almost nothing of his country but part of the capital (reminiscent of Afghanistan). He's not going to go peaceably, and I don't see either rebel group as likely to favor shared power, negotiation, and stability at the expense of tribal dominance. So where is the peace? What would a "peacekeeping" force be expected to accomplish? What would pass for a government if such a force succeeded in getting the various factions to stop shooting each other and killing hundreds or thousands of civilians who get in the way? What would the timetable be? Whatever we're told, I'm inclined to disbelieve it. Remember, eight years later there are still peacekeeping troops in Bosnia.

Maybe if BushCo hadn't been so focused on getting its hands on Iraq's oil it would have had time to direct some attention elsewhere. Then again, diplomatic strategy is hardly its long suit. It seems to me that the world community allows situations to explode out of control and only then decides, in a panic, "Something must be done!" Perhaps it would make more sense to develop some skills at intervening--diplomatically, non-militaristically--befoe the flashpoint is reached.

I feel sorrow for the people of Liberia. But no matter how I shake up the pieces, I can't make this puzzle fit together. I'm not convinced that intervention on the part of the U.S. will end the fighting. Perhaps it won't even save lives, for as John R. MacArthur points out, "War unleashes death in unpredictable ways." I don't see how we can afford to extend our troops any farther, nor can I justify the deaths of more of our soldiers in such a venture. It's not that their lives are worth more than the lives of the Liberian civilians now suffering in the conflict; it's that I can't see how we can rationalize to the soldiers that this is something they must do because the outcome will be noble. Can we really ask them to put their lives on the line when there's really no plan beyond "go in and stop the fighting"? Can we be sure that we won't make things worse? Will our intervention really save lives?

Military intervention isn't the answer. Rather, it's an admission of failure--failure to use other kinds of intervention that might have prevented armed conflict. Perhaps these "peacekeeping" forces will actually achieve peace and save lives. I hope they will, if they're going to go in. But I still think that the idea of a humanitarian military intervention is fraught with pitfalls and boobytraps, all too likely to be used as a cover for motives about as far removed from humanitarian impulse as they can possibly be.

More on the Troops in Iraq

Yes, I know that they signed up to "defend our country," i.e., take up arms whenever the idiots in charge decide we need some country's natural resources or its submission to our determination to whip a little democracy on 'em. I know their job is killing or the support of killing, and, as a pacifist, I find that abhorrent. But do our troops really deserve to suffer the living conditions they are currently enduring in Iraq?

In addition to the problem of obtaining enough clean drinking water, which I discussed previously, numerous unpleasant and often unsanitary conditions plague U.S. (and British) soldiers. If we can't rotate them out of Iraq, couldn't we at least see to it that they get hot meals and some relief from the intense heat?

One soldier's report also points up the distinction drawn between officers and enlisted personnel:
I do know there are people living in areas with running water and A.C. That, of course, is not us... although my COL lives like that. I do believe he was shielded from the reality by his staff for a while. As we crammed 50 soldiers in to two medium frame tents near a pond of dead fish which was also infested with mosquitos and there was absolutely no field sanitation support for miles, he was living in his own room inside an air conditioned building, had his own king size bed, his own bathroom, his own refrigerator, and his cappuccino machine. It was two weeks before he came down to see where the soldiers were living ...

I do believe the COL is entitled to a higher standard of living, however, the inequality was astounding and even more was the fact that he tried to hide it, by posting guards at the entrance to the hallway and didn't say more than two words to any of the soldiers until two weeks after our arrival in Baghdad. We just needed to hear that he understood our situation and was doing everything he could to improve it.
Kind of reminds me of some of the horror stories I heard from Vietnam vets who spoke of soldiers risking their lives to get water, only to find out that the lieutenant wanted a bath ...

British soldiers contacted the Herald to air their justifiable grievances:
One military policeman, recently evacuated by air suffering from heat prostration, said: "There were 40 others from the brigade in the same condition on my flight alone. Servicemen and women are being expected to live in conditions which have not improved since the war.

"The only thing that's changed is the temperature. It's gone up by 30 degrees."

A corporal added: "If you can't sleep because of the heat, your efficiency and general health decline rapidly. People are in a state of collapse after three or four days. Most of us are still 'bird-bathing' in water from bowser trucks poured into metal or plastic basins.

"The chemical Portaloos are unusable between eleven in the morning and five at night. They become individual ovens, stinking and filled with flies. We were better off using shovels to create our own individual toilets out in the desert."
Many of these conditions undoubtedly hold true for U.S. troops as well. British soldiers, not suprisingly, are none too happy about the fact that Czech soldiers under UK command have been provided with air conditioning and cooled water.

The British Ministry of Defense has really bungled things (are they vying with the U.S. for sheer dumbness in Iraq?). Bad enough that no generators were shipped to run the air conditioners that were sent to Iraq; it now turns out that the MoD "sold more than 100 mint-condition generators intended to power air-conditioning units and refrigerators at knockdown prices in April while the troops of the British 1st armoured division sweltered in 110F heat in Iraq."

Mysterious illnesses have struck some troops. Two soldiers have died of a pneumonia unusual in that it destroys organs other than the lungs. Investigators are being flown to Germany, where one of the soldiers died, and to Iraq.
The investigation comes at a time of overall concern about pneumonia. DeFraites said there has been a noticeable increase in pneumonia cases among soldiers since the war in Iraq began. He didn't release specific numbers but said the incidence of pneumonia is exceeding military expectations of 10 to 20 cases among deployed soldiers each month. Most of the patients have served in Kuwait and Iraq.
The danger that the troops must constantly live with--their own lack of security, so that relaxing, at least in some parts of Iraq, is virtually impossible--the lack of sleep, high temperatures, inadequacy of clean drinking water, lack of hot meals, and the tension between soldiers and Iraqis, all take a steep toll. The military is investigating seven suicides committed by troops in Iraq, while emphasizing that as yet there is no evidence of a spike in the rate of suicides nor of any pattern that can be linked to morale. The number of actual suicides may be higher, given that several unexplained deaths are included in the Pentagon's casualty lists.

My husband, Jim, pointed out to me that any high-stress situation, including military basic training, can result in some number of suicides. That's true, just as it's true that suicide during combat is rare. But the Army itself has grown concerned with the problem of suicide, especially after the rate of suicides rose following 9/11 and the long deployments that followed.

Whenever I read of a soldier's death, whether accidental, combat-related, or probable suicide, I think that he or she would most likely still be alive if not for deployment to Iraq, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the death. What a waste of life. What criminal actions on the part of the current administration and the gutless Congress that meekly acquiesced.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Sending Water to the Soldiers

Heat indexes of up to 140 degrees, according to some of the soldiers in Iraq, and they're not getting enough water:
Carla Hitz has been sending care packages to Iraq ever since her son deployed in February. But when U.S. soldiers starting writing home asking for water, she decided to take action.

As part of 'Operation We Love Our Soldiers,' Hitz started building a supply of water to send over to thirsty service men.

. . . . .

Officials from the Utah National Guard say the shortage is because the U.S. government never expected one hundred and fifty thousand troops to still be in Iraq during the hot summer months.

Some soldiers report that heat indexes have reached one hundred and forty degrees. Many of the service men are only getting one or two bottles of water to drink each day.
Carla Hitz says that
Military protocol states that the troops are to be provided with 2 bottles of water daily, equalling 3 liters, and unlimited access to potable water in water buffaloes. Perhaps in theory this protocol may appear sufficient.. but in reality, our sons and daughters are suffering tremendously! Dehydration is rampant, as are dysentery, vomiting and diarrhea from ingesting the "purified" water in the buffaloes. It is reported this water is like "pool water"... is often quarantined due to problems with the purification process, and is not available in every platoon anyway.

All of this leads to the very startling fact that our soldiers are significantly under hydrated, and are at great risk for severe as well as life threatening health problems. In the excessive heat they are exposed to, and with their outdoor activities, the daily water consumption requirement ranges @ minimum 6 liters, ranging all the way to 25 liters!!
Go here if you'd like to help out.

For more info on the nightmarish logistics of getting bottled water to the troops, and on how some in the military feel that using bottled water is "coddling" the troops, read this.

President Bush's "Bring 'Em On" Picture Album

This is a collection of photos of wounded soldiers, blackened Humvees, and other powerful images of the reality of Iraq. Go. Take a look at what Bush and his minions have lied us into.

Patriot Act's Popularity Has Waned

That's putting it mildly. More than 140 cities and towns have passed resolutions condemning the Act, as have three states generally considered conservative: Alaska, Vermont, and Idaho. The ACLU and any number of other organizations concerned about civil liberties have made the Patriot Act a top priority, warning of its erosion of our Constitutional rights.

And now the House of Representatives has voted 309-118 to curb secret searches of private property, often referred to as "sneak and peek." An amendment to a spending bill stops funding for the searches, which are conducted first and then reported to the suspect after the fact.

This bodes ill for Patriot II, I would think. And that's good news. The Patriot Act has invited abuses, as an internal Justice Department report showed. As Rep. John Conyers of Michigan said, "This report shows that we have only begun to scratch the surface with respect to the Justice Department's disregard of constitutional rights and civil liberties." The more people know about this dangerous act, the more outrage we'll hear, and the more action we'll see in Congress. Let your Congressperson know how you feel about the Patriot Act and its proposed sequel.

Have they no shame?

Well, no. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)--the same people who brought you the Terror Information Awareness program (formerly the Total Information Awareness program, but that sounded a bit too 1984-ish)--are now setting up a system whereby investors would buy and sell futures contracts that would be predictions on terrorist acts, assassination attempts, and other events in the Middle East:
The market would work this way. Investors would buy and sell futures contracts — essentially a series of predictions about what they believe might happen in the Mideast. Holder of a futures contract that came true would collect the proceeds of investors who put money into the market but predicted wrong.

A graphic on the market's web page showed hypothetical futures contracts in which investors could trade on the likelihood that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated or Jordanian King Abdullah II would be overthrown.

Although the Web site described the Policy Analysis Market as "a market in the future of the Middle East," the graphic also included the possibility of a North Korea missile attack.
That graphic is no longer on the website, however, thanks to a news conference at which Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota slammed the whole idea.

DARPA issued a statement defending the program, saying that such a market would be an effective way to collect "dispersed and even hidden information. Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results; they are often better than expert opinions."

This is how the U.S. is now going to collect intelligence information? By having people bet on whether Yasser Arafat will be assassinated by a certain date, or whether al Qaeda will level a national landmark? I imagine King Abdullah II will be watching that futures betting carefully to see if and when his number is up.

And think of how this will raise the esteem in which the U.S. is held around the world! Yes, what a PR coup for the Pentagon, always coming up with ways to increase our popularity worldwide. It would be such an honor to have the head of your government as the focus of betting as to when he'll be deposed or murdered. It sends a message that we care--I mean, so much will be invested in the outcome!

You and I are paying the salaries of the people who come up with this stuff--to the tune of $750,000 this year, a requested $3 million next year, and a requested $5 million the year after that. I hope when Howard Dean wins the presidency, one of the first things he does is to get rid of the loonies in DARPA. Really, it beggars belief.

UPDATE: The Pentagon has abandoned its wacky plan to gather intelligence by having people play the market. Widespread incredulity, repugnance, and even fears that terrorists would participate and so skew any possible intelligence payoff seem to have done in the idea of selling "terrorism futures."

Draft on the way?

Take this for what it's worth, given that I read about it in World Net Daily, but supposedly a report published by the Newhouse News Service claims that the Health Care Personnel Delivery System (HCPDS) is being readied by the Department of Defense to cope with military casualties "from a large-scale biological or chemical attack."

The HCPDS was established by an act of Congress in 1987 to "provide a fair and equitable draft of doctors, nurses, medical technicians and those with certain other health care skills if, in some future emergency, the military’s existing medical capability proved insufficient and there is a shortage of volunteers."

The draft would include women and, according to the Selective Service,
is designed to be implemented in connection with a national mobilization in an emergency, and then only if Congress and the President approve the plan and pass and sign legislation to enact it. No portion of the plan is designed for implementation in peacetime.
I've been unable to find out whether there's really any talk about implementing this plan, but it seems to me that, with the military stretched so thin and BushCo determined to keep us in a constant state of war, it wouldn't take much of an excuse to decide that registration of health-care workers for such a draft must be undertaken (the plan calls for the mass registration of all health-care workers between the ages of 20 and 45; they would register at their local post office). Never mind "a large-scale biological or chemical attack"; seems to me just being in a war, any war, could trigger this plan. Given the obedience of Congress in such matters as war, it would most likely be an automatic approval.

Worse, the Pentagon wants to expand the use of such "special skills" drafts and include the drafting of military linguists, computer experts, and the like. According to the World Net Daily, and I know that's a pretty smelly source, Newhouse News Service quotes Lewis Brodsky, the acting director of the Selective Service, as saying, "We're going to elevate that kind of draft to be a priority."

Opening wedges into a wider draft? It crossed my mind.

Okay, so I'm a slacker ...

... at least when it comes to blogging in the summer. I'm also a lousy snail-mail correspondent, and even my e-mail has slowed down. Just can't seem to concentrate enough to write, although I've been reading obsessively, news, blogs, and blog comments. At a certain point I realize, Uh-oh, I've been sitting here for x number of hours, better get out to the garden.

Speaking of the garden, we've been harvesting lots of goodies lately, with more to come. We've had salad greens and spinach galore, peas, snow peas, beets, summer squash, and now the beans and broccoli are coming on. The tomato plants are covered with blossoms and showing some very green tomatoes, as well. We've been weeding and watering and dusting (organically) for infestations of flea beetles, pesky things. The corn looks good so far--what a job keeping the deer away!--but at least no indication of the horrible corn smut we had last year, shudder.

Lots of interesting news while I was out of blogging mode, but I expect that the news will continue to be interesting and I'll have plenty to say about it.

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